Getting moms to nurse their babies longer and exclusively did not mean the kids were less at risk for obesity by the time they were 11-1/2 – despite suggestions from other studies that breastfeeding can protect against obesity, researchers in a large study from Belarus said.
The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., included nearly 14,000 healthy babies in Belarus who were enrolled in the study in 1996 and 1997; researchers checked in over time, including when the children were an average of 11-1/2 years old.
In the randomized study, the babies were split into two groups, one of which breastfed longer. The other moms carried on as usual. In the intervention group, at 3 months, 43% were exclusively nursed, compared with 6.4% in the control group. At 1 year, the figures for children being nursed at all were almost 20% versus 11.4%.
Observational studies have suggested that nursing longer and exclusively could protect against obesity, but the researchers said that sort of study can have weaknesses that might affect results. For example, women who choose to breastfeed longer may be more educated than those who do not, and that could help explain what happens to kids later. Other social and environmental factors also could come into play, the researchers said.